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As Kaskaskia College President Jim Underwood conducted his annual community engagement session on Monday, it was the view out the window behind him that most engaged the small gathering of local participants at the Vandalia Education Center.
They saw the charts and graphs contained in a bound booklet that outlined the positive “state of the college,” and they heard the success stories from various administrators and deans.
But what really resonated with those in attendance was Underwood’s assertion that before year’s end, the cornfield behind him could become a construction site for the campus’ second major building.
“We’re hoping to break ground this fall,” Underwood said. “The design has been completed, we have developed an educational plan for the programs to be offered in that building, and now we’re waiting for the design to be fully approved and the funds released.”
He noted that Gov. Pat Quinn has approved $5.6 million for the project. Those funds, combined with about $2 million in local donations, will make the long-awaited building a $7.6 million reality. But first, the state funds must be released by the Capital Development Board.
“This is an example of perseverance,” Underwood said. “The first building was built entirely with local funds and bond funds, because we couldn’t wait for the state funds to be released. Since then, it’s been a matter of hanging on to our goals and pursuing them. It’s been very difficult.”
The second building, to be located just south of the current building at 2310 W. Fillmore St., will include several specialized classrooms for the various nursing programs, an industrial lab, a computer lab, six multi-purpose classrooms (which can be opened up to make a large room that will serve as a performing arts venue), three business incubator offices and a student commons area.
Mary Schulze, director of the Vandalia Education Center, reported that support from the community has grown significantly in recent years. In addition to the more traditional students, other groups have embraced the college’s programs.
“The interest from the community has grown,” she said. “We have a large group of senior citizens using the center, the partnership that we have with the YMCA has been very important and the KICK program (Kids In College at Kaskaskia) has expanded every year.”
Currently, the Vandalia center serves 1,673 students and community members, with those students earning 6,553 credit hours.
And as course offerings shrink at Vandalia Community High School because of state funding cuts, more students are using Kaskaskia College to get classes they need to prepare for college. Underwood noted that in the overall KC district, 53 percent of college-bound students are enrolled in KC classes. At VCHS, that figure is 98 percent.
Attendance at KC also has a direct benefit on finding employment, Underwood said. Examples: 97 percent of graduates are working somewhere in Illinois, 80 percent are employed in their field of study and 79 percent of those employed are working full-time.